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Hey everybody. My name is Hobo Baggins, and this is my blog. More specifically, the second installment of my Hitchhiker's Guide to Video Game Genres.
The History of the Platformer
The origin of the platformer goes back to the early 80s with the release of Donkey Kong, an arcade cabinet. This little adventure follows a man with a hat and mustache trying to make his way up a construction site to save his girlfriend (who seems to be into bestiality) from a horribly mutated ape that tosses barrels down to knock him off. Reception was so good, Nintendo (maker of Donkey Kong) decided to give the mysterious mustachioed man his own cabinet named Mario Bros, where Mario, a plumber, has to brutally murder poor, defenseless, demonic reptiles. People thought this game was the SH*T, so Nintendo decided to bring this to the homestead with Super Mario Bros in 1985. Super Mario Bros has Mario tread across dangerous landscapes with coincidentally increasing difficulty in order to find his girlfriend with the weird fetish (who is a princess at this point). To make matters worse, your character takes psychedelic mushrooms to give him the illusion he is taller (or PCP, because he could take some punches), which may also explain the piranha plants. This was a SMASHING success across the world, selling dozens of copies, mostly because video games were still in the dark ages, and games were hard to come by until the late 90s. Nintendo decided that it was only proper to make a sequel in Japan, but decided the folks in the United Snakes needed something a bit less difficult. So instead of not having to make the educated guess it was a direct sequel, many players were absolutely confuzzled by the U.S. release. The lowdown on this was you could choose from four characters: Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool, and the goal was to throw vegetables at midget Scream-like beasts.
Around this time, a company called Capcom released their own platformer called Mega Man, which would go on to spawn 5000 sequels and 800 spin-offs. Mega Man was an assassin that was called upon to kill harmless robots suffering from a small, malevolent malfunction. He would then absorb their powers to ready himself to kill a mad scientist with incredible facial hair (an archetype that will be seen later on). Since Mega Man was like the swatting of flies to Nintendo, they released Super Mario Bros 3 in 1988 to shut Mega Man down. Super Mario Bros 3 featured the same core objective as the first, but with branching paths and a lot more power-ups, the most famous of those being the tanooki suit. The tanooki suit was so well-known, that PETA decided to protest it about twenty years afterwards (but their silence about the frog suit is baffling). Mega Man 2 also came out in the same year, but no one in America cared, so the rest of the world didn't either. Nintendo drop-kicked the NES about two years later to showcase their greatest achievement: The SNES.
Nintendo had to break out the big guns to give their mascot the things he needed to usher in a new decade and a brighter future for gamers. The love-child of this dream was Super Mario World, a game with a LOT more gimmicks than 3. Super Mario World was also the debut of Mario's prehistoric steed, Yoshi. Instead of going toe-to-toe with the King of the Koopas like 1 and 3, Mario had to fight Bowser while he was in a hovercraft that is indescribable, and can only be conveyed through a picture:
In 1991, a year after Super Mario World burst into existence, Sega thought is was a novel idea to come up with their own platforming mascot: Sonic the Hedgehog, a spiky-haired blue rodent with 'tude. The premise here was Sonic had to save his animal friends from being steam-punked by a pajama wearing Teddy Rooselvelt. Gamers all over the globe went apesh*t crazy over this Genesis-only masterpiece, so Sega came up with a sequel aptly named Sonic the Hedgehog 2 featuring one of the cutest sprites to ever grace the T.V. screen: Miles 'Tails' Prower. The game was significantly longer than the first, and featured a power-up only to be obtained by having 7 Chaos Emeralds for Sonic called Super Sonic, and ushered in a steampunk nemesis for Sonic called Metal Sonic. Around this time, Nintendo challenged the title for most adorable sprite with Kirby Dream Land, featuring what could only be described as a pink cream puff. Sega upped the anty for Sonic the Hedgehog 3, adding a red haired marauder named Knuckles, defender of the island Sonic and Tails crash land on after "destroying" the Death Egg from Sonic 2. The next installment, Sonic and Knuckles, picks up right after Sonic 3 and the Spinning Cylinder of Frustration, because apparently both games together was too beefy for the Sega Genesis.
While this was going on, Nintendo tried their hand at 3D in a 2D game with Donkey Kong Country. Donkey (having some daddy issues; see Donkey Kong Jr.) realizes his stash of bananas have been stolen by a giant alligator. Of course this would not stand. He enlists the help of his nephew, Diddy in a quest to reclaim his stash. Visually striking, everyone loved it. There were two more Country games, Diddy Kong's Quest for the Platinum Record and that other one. 1995 was nearing the end of the 16-bit era, but did that stop Nintendo? Hell no. They concocted a spiritual sequel to Mario World called Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, where Yoshi had to carry a baby Mario while throwing his unborn egg-children at enemies. It was colorful, enjoyable, but not enough to garner enough attention from the shiny new 3D era.
The Nintendo 64 was home to a lot of games that were once 2D that did not transfer well to 3D, but Mario was a remarkable exception. Super Mario 64 was an example for all platformers at the time to take camera work into notice, and to make sure your controls are tight, cause there's got a high bar to cross. There were some that were able to touch the bar, at least, like Conker's Bad Fur Day, a delightfully inappropriate and fun game, and Banjo Kazooie. These and many other examples were good fun, and things couldn't be better for the genre. It was in 1996 that Sony also stepped up to the plate, not content with making walkmans and highly overpriced media systems, in the gaming world, with Crash Bandicoot (developed by Naughty Dog) and Spyro the Dragon (developed by Insomniac). Both games featured (at the time) sensational platforming and vibrant and colorful worlds. Sony's new console, the PlayStation, also featured another titan of platforming, Tomb Raider. If there was anything to give any teenage gamers hope, it was Lara Croft. She squeezed in a couple more sequels, each delivering a more detailed character design, because the shooting mechanics certainly weren't getting the lonely teenage guys off of their comfy chairs. In the early 2000s, Sony stepped their game up with Insomniac and Sucker Punch, delivering THREE monsters of the console: Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, and Sly Cooper. These trilogies were immensely popular and hilarious, leaving Nintendo in the dust for the first time in about ever.
In 2002 Nintendo released the flood gates and came up with Super Mario Sunshine, the game of the Gamecube for many. Mario is on vacation (because he's wearing short sleeves) when Peach is kidnapped by a shady figure, and Mario has to rely on the FLUDD device to get him around Delfino Island. Nintendo was silent on the side of platforming for the remainder of the generation. At about that time there was a stiffness in the air, as if a golden age of something had passed. Many people ignored this sense, but the gaming world could not deny there was a presence that left them. The age of the platfomer had passed, silently slipping away into the darkness, and nothing since has matched the strength it had once been. No buts about it, platforming had become a game for noobs. [PageBreak]
The platformer was a shadow of its former self, a conduit for cashed-in liscenced games, both 2D and 3D, and no Oddworld revival or Kirby Squeak Squad could revive it. However, in 2007 Nintendo came up with a new paradigm for the Mario series: Mario SPAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!!, where you had to collect giant stars to keep Bowser from ruling the cosmos. Sony also pulled a platformer out of their butts for their PS3 called Uncharted. They went on to make two sequels, the second one being the greatest thing since sliced bread, and Sony wore that on their person like a WWE title belt. On the handheld system called the Nintendo DS, Nintendo released New Super Mario Bros in order to remind people that 2D was not long forgotten. In 2010 Donkey Kong and Kirby snuck up on gamers like a bad case of the toots, releasing 2 incredible titles along with Mario SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!!!!!2. Things are starting to look up for the genre, and many gamers couldn't be happier.
Being a platformer relies upon some crazy level design. A designer has to design levels and gimmicks that can only be thought of through heavy use of acid and LSD. Platformers also can't be on the fence when it comes to difficulty. They have to be easy enough for people to play it in their sleep or they have to be so mind-bendingly difficult that players have to bust seven controllers in one playthrough. Another common theme is outlandish plots. There are most certainly hokey premises and such, but players don't care due to how awesome the controls are. Sometimes games don't translate well into 3D, so odds are they don't need to stay there unless they can hit the g-spot for gamers' tastes. Power-ups and upgrades to help your character are essential to any platformer, and should not be missed. Seeing any of these elements is a helpful tip for gamers to look out for when determining whether or not a game is a platformer. It may say it on the back of the box, but one can't be too careful.